What is epilepsy?

The brain is the human’s ‘control room’. Billions of brain cells transfer commands by means of electrical stimuli to body and mind. People suffering from epilepsy suffer from what can be called ‘short-circuiting’: brain cells suddenly become hyperactive and the person temporarily loses control over certain bodily functions. One out of every 150 people are estimated to suffer from epilepsy in the Netherlands; totalling over 100,000 people. Epilepsy rates are higher for individuals that are mentally handicapped. Epilepsy may exhibit itself at any given age. The nature of an epilepsy seizure is determined by the location of the disturbance in the brain. Epilepsy seizures can vary widely in expression and intensity. Sometimes a person is aware of the fact that he or she is having a seizure; however often this is not the case. Epilepsy is a generic term. There are many types of epilepsy: different kinds of seizures that occur in various frequencies.

When there are no seizures, the brain of an epilepsy patient usually functions the same as the brain of a healthy person. But still epilepsy may have consequences for someone’s behaviour, study performance, work, living, sleep and/or wake rhythm. Epilepsy may also influence ones self-perception as a result of the possible fear and insecurity it causes. Because of the broad range of nature and course of seizures, the epilepsy patient doesn’t exist. Every patient requires unique treatment and support. Epilepsy can have various causes, e.g. brain damage during birth, inflammation of the brain or the cerebral membrane, brain damage resulting from an accident or (sometimes) a brain tumor. Likewise metabolism diseases, deviations of the blood vessels or heredity may be linked to epilepsy. Often the cause of the epilepsy remains uncertain or it is caused by a combination of factors.

Most patients benefit from treatment by medication. Over a quarter of the patients suffer from such complicated epilepsy that treatment is difficult. Despite treatment these people keep suffering from occasional to frequent seizures. In the Netherlands this applies to approximately 30.000 people. Extrapolated to the EU that corresponds to approximately 1 million people. At some point in time they usually end up at a specialized centre such as Kempenhaeghe. One is referred to Kempenhaeghe when uncertainty remains regarding the diagnosis or when treatment fails to control the seizures. The combination of epilepsy and other problems - like development disorders, mental handicaps and/or education / behaviour / work related issues – requires a specialized working method.